On Summoning Ecumenical Councils

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

Then the saint mentioned how the synod convened in Rome by the blessed Pope Martin had condemned the Monothelites, to which Bishop Theodosius responded, “It is the Emperor’s summons that gives authority to a council.”

“If that were so, the Orthodox faith would have long since come to an end,” said Maximus. “Recall the councils summoned by imperial decree to proclaim that the Son of God is not of the same essence as God the Father. The first was held in Tyre, the second in Antioch, the third in Seleucia, the fourth in Constantinople under Eudoxius the Arian, the fifth in Nicaea, and the sixth in Sirmium. Considerably later, a seventh false council took place in Ephesus, at which Dioscorus presided. All these synods were convened by imperial decree, but were rejected and anathematized, since they endorsed godless doctrines. On what grounds, I would like to know, do you accept the council which condemned and anathematized Paul of Samosata? Gregory the Wonder-worker presided over that council, and its resolutions were confirmed by Dionysius, Pope of Rome, and Dionysius of Alexandria. No Emperor convoked it, but it is unassailable and irrefutable. The Orthodox Church recognizes as true and holy precisely those synods that proclaimed true dogmas. Your holiness knows that the canons require that local councils be held twice yearly in every Christian land for the defense of our saving faith and for administrative purposes; however, they say nothing about imperial decrees.” (St. Dimitri Rostov, Life of St. Maximus)

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